JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER, DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
With the 2022 Florida legislative session quickly approaching, two Collier County lawmakers encouraged business and community leaders to get engaged in the process early if they want to affect change.
“Don’t call any of us the night before we’re going to the floor (to vote on something) and say, ‘this sucks.’ That’s the worst thing you can do,” said Sen. Kathleen Passidomo. “If you have an issue, you can only affect change as the bill moves through the system. My suggestion: Get to us early on.”
Passidomo joined Rep. Lauren Melo for a discussion about the 2022 legislative session during Wake Up Naples on Wednesday, Sept. 1. The event, sponsored by the United Way of Collier and the Keys, was an opportunity for the lawmakers to discuss their priorities for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 11, and highlight some of their achievements from the previous session.
The pair also encouraged Southwest Florida business and community leaders to get involved in the legislative process, telling attendees to reach out to their offices with questions or concerns.
“We are all available to you,” said Melo. “A lot of times, we have so much happening. We’re trying to drink from a firehose when we’re up there, and we need boots on the ground back here to tell us ‘this doesn’t work for us,’ ‘please be aware,’ ‘let’s make some changes’ and ‘let’s talk about this.’”
Passidomo and Melo said they once again expect water quality, education and housing to be hot topics when lawmakers convene for their annual 60-day session.
“We need to be really careful and strategic in our wastewater treatment projects across the state. It’s a huge problem,” said Passidomo. “We can put money into water projects, but with more and more people moving to Florida we have more and more septic systems; we have more and more people using our sewage treatment plants. One of the things I’ve learned – and I’m going to work with my partner in the House, Rep. Paul Renner, who will be Speaker when I’m Senate President – is holding local government accountable for what they do with their sewer plants, because we read all the time about failures of plants. We can’t allow that. That’s going to be a big focus.”
Florida lawmakers this year voted to change the way documentary stamp revenue was distributed, allocating a portion of the revenues to the state’s water protection and sustainability trust fund, which would be used for a wastewater grant program, and to the state’s newly created Resilient Florida program, aimed at addressing sea level rise.
While the decision meant more monies would be available for environmental changes, the shift meant a reduction in available dollars for state and local housing trust funds. The legislation, which was signed into law earlier this year, also prohibit lawmakers from transferring local and state housing trust funds to the general fund.
Passidomo and Melo both said they understand the need for affordable, workforce housing, and said they expect it will continue to be a topic of conversation during the upcoming legislative session – and beyond.
The pair also discussed a proposal to build a state veterans nursing home in Collier County, something they both supported.
“I am a Blue Star mom. My son is an Army combat veteran, his last deployment was Afghanistan at Bagram,” said Melo. “I very much support any issues for veterans.”
Collier County was one of the top-ranked counties the last time the state discussed building a veterans nursing home, but lost out because of the location. The county is currently proposing building a facility on county-owned property near Golden Gate Parkway and Collier Boulevard, using $30 million from the local option sales surtax toward the state’s share of construction costs.
“The site that Collier selected is ideal,” said Passidomo. “I feel hopeful that it will happen.”
Sign Up for Advocacy Watch
Interested in learning about the policy issues at the federal, state and local level? Sign up for the Chamber’s public policy email, Advocacy Watch, to learn more about what’s happening in Southwest Florida and how you can make a difference.